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Texans name Gaine GM, extend O'Brien's contract
The Houston Texans hired Brian Gaine as their new general manager and extended the contract of head coach Bill O'Brien.
Gaine signed a five-year deal and O'Brien was extended for four years, with both contracts running through 2022. O'Brien had one year remaining on the five-year contract he signed when he took over as Texans head coach before the 2014 season.
Gaine returns to the Texans after one year as the Buffalo Bills' vice president of player personnel. He previously served as Houston's director of pro personnel and director of player personnel under general manager Rick Smith before leaving for Buffalo.
Gaine's extensive experience includes working in scouting and personnel since 1999. He started with the New York Jets, and five years later he moved on to work with the Dallas Cowboys from 2005 to 2007 and then with the Miami Dolphins from 2008 to 2013.
"Our committee was unanimous in praise for Brian Gaine and we are all aligned in our philosophy on how to continue to build our roster and win a championship," Texans founder, chairman and chief executive officer Bob McNair said. "Brian is an incredibly smart, hardworking individual that understands the importance of good communication. We couldn't be more excited about naming him our new general manager."
O'Brien owns a 31-33 regular-season mark in four seasons with the Texans. He has a 1-2 record in the playoffs.
From 2014-16, O'Brien led the Texans to three straight winning seasons for the first time in franchise history and back-to-back AFC South division championships in 2015-16.
"Bill O'Brien has been a tremendous leader for us these last four years and we believe in his vision for the team moving forward," McNair said. "Bill is a terrific teacher that the players respect. We have a lot of trust in him to build a unified, championship culture and we're thrilled to have him as our head coach into the future."
The Texans had a miserable season plagued by injuries, including the losses of quarterback Deshaun Watson, defensive end J.J. Watt, linebacker Whitney Mercilus, center Nick Martin, running back D'Onta Foreman and a 10-game performance-enhancing drug policy suspension for Brian Cushing.
This disaster following two consecutive AFC South division titles was a 4-12 campaign that ended with a six-game losing streak and nine losses in the final 10 games. The Texans couldn't stop the pass without a consistent pass rush or pass coverage, falling to last in the NFL in points allowed after finishing first in total defense the previous year.
The offense didn't have a consistent running game once Watson got hurt. The Texans are expected to retain head coach Bill O'Brien with a new contract extension despite the downward spiral. Executive vice president Rick Smith is no longer the general manager because he's taking a leave of absence to care for his wife as she battles breast cancer. The Texans are in major flux and entering an uncertain offseason.
Owner Bob McNair is planning to hire a new general manager to replace Smith. Among the candidates: Patriots executive Nick Caserio, Bills executive Brian Gaine, Texans executive Jimmy Raye and Packers executive Brian Gutekunst.
The Texans need to upgrade their offensive line and secondary. They may need four new starters on the offensive line and as many as three new defensive backs. This is a team that could potentially have a quick turnaround once they are fully healthy, but there are roster deficiencies that are fairly obvious, too.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: Pro-Bowl wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins led the NFL with 13 touchdown catches and was one of the most dangerous players in the NFL. Hopkins is a master of the toe-tap catch along the sideline. Pro-Bowl outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, despite double-team blocking, had a career-high 9.5 sacks and 20 tackles for losses.
WHAT WENT WRONG: Texans rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson tore his ACL when he was on pace for 43 touchdown passes. The Texans never recovered from his loss. J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus were ruled out for the season during the same drive against the Kansas City Chiefs. The lack of a pass rush affected the defense in a major way.
MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER: Former first-round cornerback Kevin Johnson couldn't stay healthy or play consistently. Johnson sprained his knee and missed four games. When he returned, he got picked on in single coverage and didn't tackle well. He was also prone to penalties.
MOST SURPRISING PLAYER: Wide receiver Will Fuller V caught seven touchdown passes in his second NFL season. Fuller is very fast and capable of making big plays. However, he has durability issues that prevented him from making even more of a splash.
ASSISTANT COACH ON THE RISE: Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel was in demand as a head coaching candidate and was interviewed early in the process by the Detroit Lions and Indianapolis Colts. When the Titans fired Mile Mularkey after Tennessee's playoff loss to New England, Vrabel moved to the top of the list and was hired by general manager Jon Robinson, who was in the personnel department of the Patriots when Vrabel played linebacker for the franchise.
Rick Smith is taking a year off from football, but will retain his title of executive vice president and plans to return to the Texans.
Smith announced he's taking an extended leave of absence to help his wife, Tiffany, who has been undergoing treatment for breast cancer in Arizona for the last three months. Hiring someone to replace Smith as general manager is a decision that will be made by owner Bob McNair.
"My tenure is not over," Smith said. "This is a comma, not a period. I absolutely intend on coming back.
"We made this decision because family's the most important thing. This is an opportunity for us to really focus on Tiffany and our family and to make sure she gets her health back.
"This has been very difficult for our family. We've got three kids in three different schools and her getting treatment in Arizona. This is a big job (with the Texans). There are a lot of things I'm responsible for. The logistics of it have been very difficult."
McNair and his son, vice chairman Cal McNair, are expected to hire a new general manager. They are putting together a list of candidates and will begin the interview process this week.
"We're grateful to the McNair family for the support and freedom they've given us," Smith said. "There's a lot of dynamics to this job, a lot of responsibilities, so how we decide to fill all those roles is not up to me. That's up to Mr. McNair.
"Whoever takes over those roles, I don't think it would be fair for me to reinsert myself at any point during that process, so it makes sense to have a complete year that we just take off so that whoever is filling those responsibilities will be able to do that."
Smith also said he informed commissioner Roger Goodell that he will be resigning from the NFL's competition committee.
Smith's wife accompanied him to his news conference.
"I made a very difficult decision because of my wife," Smith said. "I think it's important that she's here so you can see how good she's looking and how healthy she is."
Smith got choked up talking about what his wife has been going through.
"It's been inspirational," he said. "She's strong and disciplined. I'm awed sometimes about how strong she is."